Sharpe’s sword. Bernard Cornwell

Harper watched as Sharpe drew his arm back, checked for a second, and then threw. The Kligenthal wheeled up into the sunlight, circling, dazzling with quick flashes as the steel caught the light. It seemed to hang for a second at the top of its arc, speared light at the three men, and then fell. It fell towards the Tormes’ deepest part, still turning, and then the sun left it so the steel was grey and then it struck the sheen of the water, broke it, and was gone.

Harper cleared his throat. “You’ll frighten the fishes.”

“That’s more than you ever did.”

Harper laughed. “I caught some.”

The goodbyes were said again, the hooves sounded on the bridge’s stones, and Sharpe walked slowly back to the town. He did not want this leave to be long. He wanted to be back with the South Essex, in the skirmish line where he belonged, but he would wait a week and eat his food and rest as he had been ordered.

He pushed open the door of the small courtyard of the house that was his new address, registered with the Town Major, and he stopped. She looked up. “I thought you were dead.”

“I thought you were lost.” He had been right. Memory was the worst souvenir. Memory told him she had long dark hair, a face like a hawk, a body that was slim and muscled from the days of riding the high border hills. Memory forgot the movement of a face, the life of a person.

Teresa put the cat on the ground, smiled at her husband, and came towards him. “I’m sorry. I was far north. What happened?”

„I’ll tell you later.“ He kissed her, held her, kissed her again. There was guilt inside him.

She looked up at him, puzzled. “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” He smiled. “Where’s Antonia?”

“Inside.” She jerked her head towards the kitchen where Hogan’s ‘motherly old soul’ was singing. Teresa shrugged. “She’s found someone else who wants to look after her. I suppose I shouldn’t have brought her, but I thought she ought to be near her father’s grave.”

“Not yet.” They both laughed because they were embarrassed.

The sword scraped on the ground and he took it off, laid it on the table, then hugged her again. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“Worrying you.”

“Did you think this marriage would be calm?” She smiled.

“No.” He kissed her again, and this time he let his relief pour out of him, and she held him tight so that the wound hurt, but it did not matter. Love mattered, but that was so hard to learn, and he kissed her again and again till she drew away.

She smiled up at him, happiness in her eyes. “Hello, Richard.”

“Hello, wife.”

“I’m glad you’re not dead.”

“So’m I.”

She laughed, then looked at the sword. “New?”


“What happened to the old one?”

“It wore out.” Not that it mattered. From now on this old sword, with its dull scabbard, would be his sword and Fate’s weapon; Sharpe’s sword.


It may seem wilful, even perverse of me to introduce yet more Irish characters into Sharpe’s adventures, yet Patrick Curtis and Michael Connelley existed and, in Sharpe’s Sword, play the roles they played in 1812. The Reverend Doctor Patrick Curtis, known as Don Patricio Cortes to the Spanish, was Rector of the Irish College and Professor of Natural History and Astronomy at the University of Salamanca. He was also, at the age of 72, the spy chief of his own network that extended throughout French-held Spain and well north of the Pyrenees. The French did suspect his existence, did want to destroy him, but they discovered his identity only after the Battle of Salamanca. As modern spy novels would say, Curtis’ cover was ‘blown’, and when the French did make a brief reappearance in the city he was forced to flee for British protection. In 1819, when the wars were over, he received a British Government pension. He finally left Spain to become the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and he died in Drogheda at the good age of 92.

Archbishop Curtis died of the cholera, Sergeant Michael Connelley of the soldiers’ hospital in Salamanca died of alcoholic poisoning not long after the battle. I have no evidence that Connelley was in the hospital (which was situated in the Irish College) before the battle, in fact I would rather doubt it, but he was certainly there after the events of July 22nd, 1812.1 have traduced his memory by putting him in charge of the death room when in fact he was appointed to be Sergeant of the whole hospital. Rifleman Costello, who was wounded at Salamanca, wrote about Connelley in his memoirs and I have shamelessly stolen my description from his book. He was, indeed, attentive to the sick. He did, as Costello says, “drink like a whale‘, but his chief distinction was his anxiety that the British would die well in the face of the French wounded. Costello quotes him. ”Merciful God! What more do you want? You’ll be buried in a shroud and coffin won’t you? For God’s sake, die like a man before these ’ere Frenchers.“ Sergeant Connelley was immensely popular. The funeral of the Duke himself, Costello says, would not have attracted more mourners than did Connelley. One of the pallbearers, a cockney ventriloquist, rapped on the coffin and imitated Connelley’s voice. ”Let me out, won’t you? Oh, merciful Jesus, I’m smothered.“ The cortege stopped, bayonets were produced, and the lid prised off to reveal the still dead Sergeant. The incident was thought to be extremely funny, a joke in good taste, and it does not seem to be out of character with Wellington’s men.

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